Wine Storage Services
My collection is getting out of hand. Why do I say that? I’m almost out of storage space and my thoughts turn to offsite storage. If you’ve been collecting wine for a while, you probably have encountered this problem and also started entertaining the idea of wine storage services. However, wine storage isn’t just about having a temperature controlled location. Whether you’re collecting wine as an investment or simply keeping wine for your own enjoyment, there are several things you should consider before storing your investment anywhere.
Whether you store your wine at home or at an offsite facility, wine needs to be stored in the dark. Light is one of several factors why cellars are in basement locations. A wine storage facility doesn’t have to be located underground, but it would be the most logical place to have one. If the storage facility you’re considering isn’t underground, then it shouldn’t have windows, or at least have all light from exterior windows blocked throughout the space.
However, the interior should be well-lit so that searching for a bottle or checking for signs of leakage is not made more difficult by having to do it in the dark. Ideally, interior light sources should be LED or fluorescent so they don’t adversely affect the temperature. Lights should be motion-controlled or on a countdown timer and should be automatically turned off when the facility is not open. The best storage facilities have individual lockers or rooms with independent lighting that can be closed off from light from the rest of the facility. However, you can expect to pay more for thoughtful design.
Obviously, wine storage needs to be temperature controlled and maintained around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The facility should have some way to track and record the temperature. Of course, it should also be connected to some type of monitoring service to alert you or the operators of the facility when temperatures are outside of normal. There should be backup generators in case of an extended power outage and multiple cooling units for redundancy. Look for facilities that allow real-time web access to key environmental indicators.
Wine storage also needs to be humidity controlled and relative humidity should be maintained between 60-70 percent. Appropriate fill-levels are important for investment wines. Proper humidity prevents corks from drying out which could result in wine leakage. It also keeps corks elastic which makes bottles easier to open. Humidity in a storage facility should also be monitored.
Natural corks allow for a small amount of air exchange. It’s important that the air that may penetrate into the bottle be free of contamination. Your initial visit to a facility should confirm that there are no unusual odors present that may taint the wine.
It’s usually not a good idea to built a cellar under stairs because the vibrations from footsteps could disturb bottles, cause cork leakage or even bottle breakage. A good wine storage facility will be built directly on a solid foundation or structurally isolated. The refrigeration equipment should be ceiling mounted and isolated to prevent vibration of surrounding structures. If in doubt, ask to see how the facility has handled this critical factor.
If your storage facility is within an earthquake zone, inquire about how the facility is equipped to handle such an event. The facility should be built to earthquakes codes. Storage lockers should have some method to prevent shifting of contents, however, breakage can be avoided with proper storage arrangement. Avoid putting individual bottles on shelving or racks. Large format bottles should be kept in a protective box. Keeping standard-sized bottles in cases or crates and avoiding excessive stacking and spacing will reduce breakage.
Regardless of why you collect wine, it’s an expensive investment and needs to be protected, not only environmentally, but also from theft and destruction. A wine storage facility should have multiple layers of secured doors to access. Individual lockers should be secured separately. The security system should monitor the interior and perimeter with motion, heat and smoke detectors and be on backup power with redundant outside connections, i.e., wired and wireless phone monitoring.
A video recording system should be installed with well-placed cameras inside and out. The facility itself should be located in a publicly visible location with plenty of outside lighting and easy access for loading. Ask yourself, if they are open in the evening, would you feel safe moving your wine just outside of the facility?
Even the best security won’t prevent disasters from happening. Shit happens and you should be prepared when it does happen. Most wine collections are underinsured or not covered at all. Very few homeowners policies cover wine collections, some may have special riders that cover collections for personal consumption. Many storage facilities offer insurance or is included with the cost. Ask to make sure and verify coverage limits.
Larger collections and investment collections will need separate coverage and, depending on the per bottle value, may actually need an itemized bottle by bottle valuation. If you need to obtain separate coverage, consider La Playa in the UK, Insureyourwine.com or Ellis Insurance Agency in the U.S. or Hunter Keilty Muntz & Beatty in Canada. Fireman’s Fund and Chubb also provide wine collection insurance in the U.S. Be sure your coverage includes temperature extremes, earthquakes, in-transit loss or damage, and accidental breakage. You can expect to pay annually from $0.50-0.60 per $100 of value, so a $100,000 collection will cost $500-600 per year.
Often overlooked is the convenience of a storage facility. If you keep your wine for consumption, easy access to your wine might be an important consideration. Are they located nearby? Are their operating hours convenient for you? Can you easily get to specific wine within your locker?
On the other hand, if you are keeping wine as an investment, other conveniences may be more important. Does the facility accept deliveries on your behalf; if they have access, will they ship your wine to you or elsewhere? Do they also sell wine; can they broker your wine when you decide to sell it?
Your collection is likely to grow. How convenient is adding more storage? Does it require moving and disturbing the wine or will you have your collection spread between multiple lockers? How will you track where everything is located? Do they inventory your wine or provide any sort of inventory application? Finally, are these extra cost services or are they included in the storage cost? If included, are these services something you would use or are you paying for unnecessary services?
Wine storage facilities can charge by the bottle, case, or more commonly by the locker. If the facility charges by the locker and you are transferring an existing collection, you should anticipate future expansion. Start off with a larger space to allow for at least 50% growth. If you’re an avid collector, allow for 100% to 200% growth. Good wine storage facilities will plan for this by keeping blocks of lockers available, to avoid having your collection spread throughout the facility. If your storage facility is part of a retail business, you’ll probably get complimentary storage, at least for several months or until the next shipping window. For additional cost, they can store your wine for longer periods.
As you can see, wine storage is more than just keeping the right temperature. As you start looking for a wine storage facility, keep the factors mentioned here in mind. Be sure to ask a lot of questions and verify your assumptions. If you have a substantial collection, a personal visit to the facility may ease your concerns. If there is something I missed, please leave me a comment.